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Italy Widens Cable Car Crash Probe

March 15, 1998

ROME (AP) _ Italian prosecutors want to question two U.S. officials about a cable car accident that killed 20 people, despite America’s refusal to surrender jurisdiction over the Marine crew blamed in the deaths, news reports said Saturday.

RAI state TV and the Italian news agency ANSA said prosecutors want to question next week the two high-ranking officials from Aviano, the U.S. air base where the crew was based.

Prosecutor Francantonio Granero, already investigating the four-man crew and two base officials, did not confirm the reports.

ANSA cited unidentified judicial sources, and the two officials were not named in the news reports.

A Marine jet on a training run Feb. 3 sliced the cable used by the gondola packed with skiers at an Alpine ski resort, sending the car crashing into the slopes.

Probes by the Marines and the Italian air force have concluded that the plane was flying too fast and low.

Under a NATO agreement, allies have the right to investigate and prosecute their own military personnel for possible misconduct during official operations.

The United States on Friday informed Italy that it will not surrender jurisdiction. The four-man crew returned home to the United States on Saturday to face possible manslaughter charges.

A Marine investigation board already has blamed the crew for the tragedy, saying they broke rules on how fast and how low they could fly.

In written statements to the board, the crew denied they were ``flat-hatting″ _ military slang for violating altitude restrictions.

Lt. Gen. Peter Pace, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Atlantic at Norfolk, Va., has said he will convene the military equivalent of a criminal grand jury to determine if the men should be prosecuted.

The proceeding _ known as an Article 32 hearing _ has not been scheduled.

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